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WHAT’S WITH THE NIQAB?
The niqab has become a wedge issue in the Canadian federal election campaign. What is a wedge issue? It is essentially a lightning rod unexpectedly exploding in the middle of a campaign, with the potential to change the outcome of the election. I remember one of these vividly when, in 1985, about a week before a Provincial election in Ontario, there was an oil spill from a tanker on a highway in Northern Ontario. A Conservative M.P.P. quipped there was nothing to worry about because only a few Indians used that part of the highway. At that point in the election, Frank Miller was polling 54% of the vote. In a matter of days, this wedge issue resulted in such an erosion of support for the Conservatives that they barely held on to government and in fact were booted out of office by a pact between the Liberals and the New Democrats.
Interestingly enough, and contrary to some media reports, the wedge issue in our current federal election was not introduced by any of the political parties but rather by the Federal Court, who, in the middle of the campaign, ruled that it was lawful for women to wear the niqab when being sworn in as Canadian Citizens. I doubt if the matter would have been an election issue at all, had the ruling not come down when it did. But it did come down and a Compass Poll showed that 72% of Canadians were opposed to the wearing of the niqab during Citizenship Ceremonies and only 19% were in favour. Thus it became a huge election issue.
It is fair to ask why people across the country feel so strongly about this, since over the past decade only two women have insisted on wearing the niqab while being sworn in as Canadian Citizens. My sense is it is because the niqab issue has become a symbol for a much larger discussion that ranges from suppression and equality for women to security and national identity.
Raheel Raza is a Canadian, a Muslim, an author and an international activist for women’s rights. She has no specific political leanings. She writes that she is astonished to see Canada’s judiciary caving in to Islamists who have nothing but contempt for Canada’s values of gender equality. She states that covering the face is not a religious requirement for Muslim women and that the niqab and burqa have nothing to do with Islam but rather they are the political flags of the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, The Taliban, al Qaida and Saudi Arabia.
In my view, nothing speaks to freedom of choice less than women covering their faces because they live in a society where they are coerced into doing so. And make no mistake about it, such societies exist within Canada. If you think not, then cast your mind back to the pressure put on Premier Dalton McGuinty to allow Sharia Law in Ontario some years ago. His Government did not allow it but they did give it consideration. Nonetheless, some elements of Sharia Law, a barbaric Islamic doctrine at the centre of which, is the suppression of women, still exist here and now sadly, in most parts of the world. It was not that long ago, that young women were brutally murdered near Kingston, Ontario for what the murderers considered under Sharia law, to be an ‘Honour killing”.
I sense, that many Canadians are becoming concerned that traditional Canadian culture and values may become subordinate to multiculturalism demands. As an example, our society has evolved to a point where we no longer allow Christian prayer, or any other related activity in the public school system. That may be fair enough. Why then, is it fair for Islam to hold Friday Prayer meetings in some public schools in Toronto? There have also been attempts by the Islamic community to stop schools and restaurants that are open to all Canadians, from serving food that is forbidden to them under Islamic law.
I know that some would argue that the 72% of Canadians who believe women should uncover their face when being sworn in as Canadian Citizens are bigots. I do not. Instead I believe they see it as a symbol of creeping fundamentalism that has the potential to change who we are and what we stand for as Canadians, most especially as it relates to the equality of men and women and yes, ultimately, the safety of our nation.
While I may be wrong, I believe the reason that some (certainly not all) Muslim women in Canada wear the niqab or the burqa is not from genuine freedom of expression but rather from a culture of oppression and fear. If we really value our Canadian culture, surely that is something we would reject out of hand.
While I recognize that it is controversial, I believe that faces should not be covered in Canada anywhere there is a security risk, whether it be domestic or foreign. If I were to walk into a bank with my face covered, all hell would break loose. On the lighter side, a week or so ago, a male underage teenager, almost got away with buying alcohol in Vancouver because he was wearing a full burqa!
The comments by Raheel Razid, to the effect that the niqab and burqa are political flags for radical Islam and not required by the Muslim faith, should be taken seriously. The Qur’an simply calls for modesty in both men and women. There can be no doubt that the concept of radical Islamic terrorism is no longer confined to the Middle East and has found its way to the United States, Europe and, yes, Canada. If these ‘political flags’ are visible in our country, then surely we have a right to be concerned.
And so, I believe the issue is much greater than whether a niqab is worn at a Citizenship Ceremony and that is the real reason that Canadians are concerned and why the matter has become a wedge issue in our federal election. It will be interesting to see what effect it has.
Photo credit: Flickr user fixersuk.